Great Teams Don’t Just Happen

A critical look at mental health in the workplace and how employers can support their staff

What is Mental Health Awareness Week?

The Mental Health Foundation launched the Mental Health Awareness Week campaign 21 years ago and continue to set the theme, organise, and host the week each year. It’s an opportunity for the whole of the UK to focus on achieving good mental health and has grown to become one of the biggest awareness weeks across the UK and globally.

This year PHARMExcel is supporting Mental Health Awareness Week which is looking to raise awareness of the link between loneliness and mental health issues.

Loneliness affects the mental health of millions of people across the UK.  The Mental Health Awareness Foundation states that “We need to tackle this issue together in our communities and across the whole of society”.

During this week’s campaign the HR department at PHARMExcel want to raise awareness of loneliness and how this might affect its employees, in particular the effects that working from home may have on staff.

The mental health impact of remote working

The COVID-19 pandemic forced many businesses to change their working practices. Overnight companies were required to send their employees home to work remotely and this status quo has remained for many companies.

Feedback from remote workers during the initial lock downs was mixed; some viewing home working as a great benefit, saving time and travel costs, creating more flexibility for childcare, looking after elderly relatives and even pets! However, whilst some appeared to be content with this new arrangement, many commented on feelings of loneliness and isolation, particularly if they lived alone and didn’t have the opportunity to interact with others during the working week.

Remote working has taken away the contact we have each day with our colleagues, the office banter, meeting for social drinks, being able to get quick advice from more senior/experienced colleagues, and also being more immediately aware how staff are feeling.

Flexible working is now high on the employment agenda causing a stir amongst many employers.

The pros & cons of working from home:

The advantages:
  • Time and cost savings – no time or cost required for travelling
  • Higher productivity – more focussed time to get things done as no travelling
  • More flexibility to attend personal appointments
  • Enhanced recruitment opportunities – employers can access a wider talent pool from all over the UK or overseas even
  • Less sickness absence as employees are more willing to continue working when feeling under the weather
  • Positive environmental impact – lower emissions from fewer transport vehicles
  • Cost savings for business – reducing office space.
The disadvantages:
  • More distractions at home such as children, partners, pets, couriers, TV and house chores
  • Supervision/monitoring – how can the line manager see what the employee is doing and when they are working?
  • Security and GDPR – who is seeing the company documents and files on the laptop that is left open on the dining room table?
  • Loneliness – for staff that live alone, they may have no contact with anyone. If they fall ill, who would know? They may carry on working regardless and their health will worsen
  • Mental health – staff may become overwhelmed in their work and have no one to turn to for help. Sometimes it’s likely they may not realise they are struggling which could lead to serious mental health issues
  • Lack of learning & development from peers – no one to look up to and learn from
  • Working long hours – it’s difficult to differentiate home/workplace and too easy to keep working, leading to stress and burnout
  • Lack of team contact and socialising.

Striking a happy balance

Alternative measures need to be introduced by organisations for remote working to have a positive outcome for both the employer and employee, ensuring productivity doesn’t dip, staff remain engaged and feel part of the organisation and work-life balance continues. Interestingly at the beginning of the pandemic we saw staff productivity increase. Staff were enjoying the work-life balance. Spending less time commuting meant more time for well-being activities and family life. However, as the UK government restrictions continued, we saw staff working hours creeping up with some employees struggling to turn the laptop off at the end of the day; work and home life began to blur into one.

5 recommendations to support your remote workers

As more staff are working fully remotely or more flexibly, it’s important that employers make sure that their staff are still looked after and best practices are implemented.  Here are 5 recommendations to support your remote workers:

  1. Consistent, scheduled check-ins
    We recommend regular check-ins, the timings of which should be dictated by individual line managers. It’s important to provide consistent updates to projects, priorities, expectations, and outline what’s happening within the company. Making all staff feel part of the organisation is key.
  2. Well-being initiatives
    Having a Well-Being Manager or Champion can help hugely in assisting staff. Providing an independent space to talk, direct access to useful podcasts and articles and well-being initiatives throughout the organisation can support mental health and well-being for remote teams. Encourage physical fitness, send a mental health survey and share mental health resources. Offer mental Health Employee Benefits – EAP, mental health sessions in the workplace and stress management programmes.
  3. Set clear expectations
    Setting clear expectations for every employee becomes even more critical, especially when you have remote teams. Employees who understand their responsibilities, accountabilities and deadlines can work to achieve them, thus preventing any unnecessary anxiety for staff within their teams. Ensure work-life balance is maintained and reward good work and behaviour.
  4. Instant messaging
    Microsoft Teams or other similar apps are a convenient method of instant communication, but taking time for face-to-face or voice-to-voice communication is still essential to build trust and clarify more formal elements of an employee’s day-to-day working.
  5. Team building: When staff come together, it’s important to schedule some team-building activities both in and away from the office. While it may not seem immediately productive, small talk can help create personal connections, build empathy and strengthen working relationships. Organise this alongside virtual events e.g. coffee chats and team quizzes.

How can employees help themselves when remote working?

  • Set up a specific area for your ‘office’ in your home, try not to work outside of that space
  • Shut off work devices after the set work hours have passed
  • Take regular breaks throughout the day to eat and stretch
  • Be organised and ensure effective time management
  • Get a full night’s sleep
  • Ensure physical activity throughout the week
  • Openly communicate to your line manager if work begins to become overwhelming.

How do we look after our staff at PHARMExcel?

  • Flexible working
    We have recognised the importance of flexibility and have introduced several changes and initiatives to support this. We have increased our field based roles and have introduced a Flexible Working and Hybrid Working Policy for all our office based roles. All staff have a home working environment set-up to ensure we remain efficient and effective as a business.
  • Increased number of fully-remote roles
    As a growing business we must ensure we are able to attract and retain the best talents and listen to our staff. We now conduct our interviews for potential new staff via Microsoft Teams which allows us to recruit candidates who do not live locally to the Head Office and we will be making further changes to our hybrid working arrangements for future sustainability.
  • Well-being benefits
    We offer all our staff a ‘well-being’ day once they have passed their probation and have introduced a Reward & Recognition Awards scheme.  We recently updated our appraisal system to ensure that staff have a voice about working for PHARMExcel. We offer all staff the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) through our HR advisory consultancy and have a generous private medical insurance scheme. We are flexible with doctors’ appointments and time off for dependants – all very important to today’s workforce.

    During lock down we introduced coffee chats once a week, held virtual team quizzes and even had a virtual Christmas party! We regularly check-in with our staff and try, where possible, to have a face-to-face team lunch or after work drinks.  We held a large company team day last year and are looking forward to a company social event in the Summer.

Thoughts from our CEO, Yvanne Enever

As a business who recognised the advantages of employing remote workers far before the COVID-19 pandemic, we already had some remote-working practices in place, such as Office 365. The transition for the whole company (excluding our Clinical Trial Administrators who remained office based), was therefore relatively smooth. As restrictions began to lift, we made a conscious decision to gather staff feedback on how they felt about returning to the office. As a fast-growing business I was aware that a totally remote workforce may impede us creating and solidifying our company culture, which is fostered, in the main, by us coming together, engaging in company-wide meetings, and getting to know how each other works. As a value-driven business, when our staff identify with our company values, they’re more likely to engage with their work, and engagement is key in today’s workplace, particularly when we want to attract and retain the best talent.
Our staff are our biggest asset!

Change is often tough, but it can also be very rewarding. The pandemic gave us the opportunity to implement positive changes in our working practices and understand how best to tackle the challenges remote working can have on the business and well-being of our employees.

Conclusion

It’s clear that remote working is here to stay for the immediate future at least. Employers will need to recognise this and adapt their working practices if they want to remain competitive and attract and retain high calibre staff.  However, with this comes a responsibility to ensure that remote workers are supported and there are measures and initiatives in place to support their mental health and well-being. Being lonely can be a real struggle for many people and the workplace used to be a safe haven for some.  Offering a mixture is a good compromise and solution for many organisations. Awareness weeks such as Mental Health Week can bring this to the forefront so we must all continue to remember and look out for each other, especially in the workplace.

At PHARMExcel we recognise the importance of looking after both the physical and mental health of our staff and strive to create an environment for a happy and healthy work/life balance. Mental Health Awareness week is a great opportunity for us all to reassess our health and well-being especially at work.

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